India became the first country to land a vehicle near the Moon’s south pole on Wednesday, a historic victory for the world’s most populous country and its ambitious, low-cost space program.
The unmanned Chandrayaan-3, which means “Mooncraft” in Sanskrit, landed at 6:04 p.m. India time (1234 GMT) to raucous applause from mission control technicians.
Its arrival comes just days after a Russian probe crashed in the same area, and four years after the previous Indian attempt failed at the final second.
On a live broadcast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi smiled heartily and waved an Indian flag to declare the mission’s success as a triumph that reached beyond his country’s boundaries.
“On this joyous occasion, I would like to address the people of the world,” Modi said on the sidelines of the BRICS conference in South Africa.
“India’s successful moon mission is not just India’s alone,” he continued. “This success belongs to all of humanity.”
Since its launch over six weeks ago in front of thousands of cheering onlookers, the Chandrayaan-3 mission has grabbed public attention.
Politicians organized Hindu prayer rituals to wish the expedition success, while kids watched live transmissions of the landing from their classrooms.
Chandrayaan-3 landed at the Moon much later than the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s, which arrived in a matter of days.
Because India employed much weaker rockets than the US at the time, the probe had to orbit the Earth multiple times to acquire speed before going on its month-long voyage.
Since entering lunar orbit on August 5, the lander, Vikram, which means “valour” in Sanskrit, has been delivering photographs of the Moon’s surface.
Now that Vikram has landed, a solar-powered rover will investigate the surface and send data back to Earth over the course of two weeks.
- Aiming for milestones set by global space powers such as the United States and Russia, India is carrying out many of its missions at significantly lower costs.
The South Asian country has a relatively low-budget space program that has increased significantly in size and momentum since it first sent a spacecraft into orbit around the Moon in 2008.
The newest mission costs $74.6 million, which is far less than that of other countries and a tribute to India’s inexpensive space engineering.
According to experts, India can keep costs low by replicating and adapting existing technology, as well as by employing a large number of highly trained engineers who earn a fraction of their overseas counterparts’ pay.
India became the first Asian country to place a vehicle in orbit around Mars in 2014, and it plans to launch a three-day crewed mission into Earth’s orbit next year.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was looking forward to Wednesday’s landing after the frustrating failure of its previous mission at the penultimate hurdle in 2019.
Mission control lost touch with the Chandrayaan-2 lunar module just before its scheduled landing.
- ‘Very, very important’ – According to former ISRO chief K. Sivan, India’s attempts to explore the comparatively unmapped lunar south pole will make a “very, very important” contribution to scientific understanding.
Only Russia, the United States, and China have previously accomplished controlled Moon landings.
In August, Russia launched its first lunar probe in nearly 50 years.
If successful, it would have beaten Chandrayaan-3 to become the first mission from any nation to perform a controlled landing around the south pole by a matter of days.
However, Luna-25 crashed on Saturday as it prepared to descent due to an unidentified problem.